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Robert SCHUMANN (1810-1856)
Complete Works for Pedal Piano or Organ
Six Studies in Canonic Form for Pedal Piano, Op. 56 (1845) [21:17]
Four Sketches for Pedal Piano, Op. 58 (1846) [15:10]
Six Fugues on the Name BACH, Op. 60 (1845-46) [35:06]
Daniel Beckmann (organ)
rec. 2020, St. Ignaz Church, Mainz, Germany
AEOLUS AE11201 SACD [71:51]

The music here was composed between 1845 and 1846, a period when the organ was suffering something of a decline. Not even the contributions of Mendelssohn and Liszt could satisfactorily rehabilitate it. It had to wait for Max Reger in Germany and César Franck in France to redress the balance. The Pedalflügel was a piano that incorporated a pedalboard, enabling bass register notes to be played with the feet in much the same way as on an organ. The Schumanns rented such a pedalboard to put beneath their piano in the spring of 1845. Clara wrote in her diary on 24 April: “The main aim was to practice organ playing.” Robert took to it like a duck to water, and his enthusiasm resulted in some Sketches and Studies. The works were not just a substitute for the organ. The instrument gave the composer the opportunity to enhance the sound of the bass register. Op. 56 and 58 could also be performed as 3- or 4-hand works without pedal, whereas Op. 60 was written with only the organ in mind. Owing to the rarity of pedal pianos, the three sets of pieces featured in this recording are performed on the organ.

The Six Studies in Canonic Form for Pedal Piano, Op. 56 put one in mind of J. S. Bach’s Inventions. The canon is a fugue in its simplest form, where voices imitate each other. Different voices intone the same melodies, entrances are staggered, and differing harmonies are achieved by the overlaps. It all sounds very dry and academic, but Schumann manages to clothe each study in expression and melodiousness. In the first (Nicht zu schnell), the two voices are staggered at the half-measure. It is very reminiscent of the opening of Bach’s Toccata in F major. Beckman’s choice of registration is both diaphanous and soothing. In the second (Mit innigem Ausdruck), the two voices are staggered at full measure. Of tender expression, the piece charms with its elegance and tranquil lilt. The fifth has a playful demeanour, whilst the final Adagio sounds reverential. When the pedal piano became obsolete, Debussy arranged these studies for two pianos.

There is no role for counterpoint in the Four Sketches for Pedal Piano, Op. 58. The pieces are imaginatively constructed and varied. The first has a march-like theme which moves along tentatively. It is followed by something on a more resplendent scale, festive and celebratory in character. The next is my particular favourite. Marked Lebhaft (Lively), it has a busy accompaniment. The final piece ends the cycle on a cheery and playful note. Beckmann utilizes some colourful registrations to bring variety and contrast.

Six Fugues on the Name BACH, Op. 60 amply display Schumann’s supreme mastery of counterpoint. He held the set in high regard considering it as “The work which, I believe, will longest outlive my others”. The first two fugues can be looked on as an Introduction and Allegro symphonic opening movement. The third is the most introspective and gentle. Everything builds up to the final movement, which is a splendid double fugue. This, in turn, climaxes to a magnificent ending of exhilarating potency.

Daniel Beckmann’s artful musicianship makes him the perfect advocate for these well-crafted works. He is principal organist at Mainz Cathedral, and this is his debut recording for Aeolus. He performs on the newly restored Bernhard Dreymann organ, housed in St. Ignaz church in Mainz. Its original construction in 1837 coincides with Schumann's composition of these works.

Stephen Greenbank

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